The biggest problem game developers face today is the issue of discovery. Roughly 500 games launched per day on iOS in 2014. And last year, 4,207 games launched on Steam. With hundreds of free-to-play games, digital downloads, online offerings, social media accounts, and apps available, it’s not just about creating games anymore. Behind every passion project, there’s a need to evolve and develop business tactics and outreach goals. Due to the ever-growing selection and audience fragmentation across platforms, outlets, and devices, there’s a barrage of developers competing for consumers’ attentions. There are 2,088 active game companies just in the UK alone. Somehow, in the middle of it all, developers need to stand out. One way to do so? Affiliate networks and influencers.
Watching other people play video games is now a multi-million dollar industry. These videos, called “Let’s Plays”, dominate YouTube’s top earner charts. Affiliates aren’t to be scoffed at either. Thanks to the YouTube affiliate program, video game accessories retailer KontrolFreek generated about $1 million in sales in 2013, amounting to roughly 20% of its overall revenue. In this article, we’re going to discuss how to use affiliate and influencer marketing to get your game noticed, explain common challenges that comes with this, and explain why using these methods is essential to games promotion in this digital age.
Google Trends illustrates the steady increase in influencer marketing. The gap between influencer marketing and video advertising is now closed. YouTube and Twitch sponsorships are integral to any meaningful games promotion campaign due to the massive following content creators have on these platforms. As a result, 90% of players watch Let’s Play videos and consult them for gaming advice. An astonishing 64% of them download games after seeing them on YouTube.
But just what constitutes influencer marketing? For starters, it’s videos in which games are played by an engaging player. Commentary and jokes are commonplace, as well as insightful information and opinions. By simply being interesting and playing a certain game, those behind the camera can build a following, earn a six-figure income, and help promote games for developers who reach out.
In the case of affiliate programs, blogs or social media accounts with large followings can serve as valuable platforms. For instance, a developer may ask the owner of a popular gaming blog to place an image and link to a video game. Ubisoft has one such program where they offer commission earnings to anyone who promotes Ubisoft products on their website. By providing links to their titles, bloggers can make a profit from essentially selling Ubisoft games. Another one is EA’s Origin Affiliate Program, which functions the same way.
Thanks to the availability of information through blogs, gaming websites, and YouTube, finding influencers and affiliates isn’t very difficult. You can find a list of influencers or find influencer networks, like Upfluence, Ader or Game Influencer, which conduct marketing campaigns for PC, console and mobile games. They connect games with influencers to create brand awareness, drive app installs and boost app store rankings. In other words, you don’t need to actually search through the internet to find them, networks like Game Influencer let you submit your game and use performance indicators like video views and conversion rates.
Those partnered with game publishing services provider Xsolla get to use the company’s own influencer network, Xsolla Network Solution, which consists of over one million influencers. Many of these influencers are ready to work on Cost Per Acquisition or Cost Per Sale models, where the influencer makes commission for any sales they drive directly via a referral link. Partnering with affiliate networks is a great way to acquire new users with no upfront cost. If you pay an influencer a flat fee to promote your game, you run the risk of not making back as much as you invested. Plus, a lot of influencers charge a hefty amount upfront for promotion. If you work on a commission model, influencers don’t get paid until you do, so you’re more protected. It can also encourage the influencer to work harder to push the game, since they know their commission is directly tied to how many sales they can drive.
However, one thing to consider is that although there are many CPA aggregators, influencer networks like Xsolla Network Solution are connected with all CPA networks. Managing one integration that leads to multiple CPA networks is much better than having to use dozens of different ones at a time. Also, not every CPA network will be working with indie developers. Some networks only work with large AAA games, as they feel there’s more to gain from partnering with them, from exposure to potential partnerships. This means that indie games tend to have a much more difficult time finding the right partnerships that can prove mutually beneficial.
Although influencers and affiliates are popular games promotion resources, the entire process doesn’t come without some drawbacks. One caveat of YouTube influencer marketing is the lack of data tracking. Even though it’s easy to measure things like reach and engagement of a campaign, other elements, like performance and user-quality metrics, are a bit more elusive.
Around 62% of mobile click-backs and 47% of desktop click-backs are currently taking place via “dark social,” a term used to describe traffic that originated from the share of a URL, but is marked like direct traffic on analytics tools. Unlike a few generations ago, there are now many ways that someone can arrive at a website without going directly there. Most traffic isn’t direct anymore, it’s shared through another website, or referrer. Hence, when analytics tools fail to label dark social referrers and instead combine it with direct traffic, they’re preventing you from seeing where your traffic actually comes from.
As if that wasn’t enough, affiliate and influencer relationships are difficult to manage. Is the audience that they appeal to in line with your game? Is that core audience even your targeted audience? Are the most-clicked and streamed games of the same general niche, or is your game going to be a stark, unwelcome contrast? With all the constant information being posted on a daily basis, breaking through all of the noise requires extensive time and energy. It takes a team to analyze demographics, dynamics and reactions to different types of content.
In the words of Blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch global community manager, Kiki Aitken: “It’s really about the quality of the content. It does take a lot of time to get to know the content that someone is producing, and also to go back and do some historical content analysis: What were they doing before, and how did it shape their community?”
And honestly, who has that kind of time these days? A game developer’s schedule is already packed enough as it is, let alone taking on the daunting task of sifting through copious amounts of data.
Assuming you get done going through the data and creating a list of influencers and affiliates that would be wise to work with, there’s still another challenge: getting ahold of them. Despite the fact that many of them post their email addresses and are easily contacted, they don’t always check that email frequently enough. As their popularity increases, there’s no easy way for developers and publishers to get noticed within the barrage of opportunities that these people receive on a daily basis. The more offers they receive, the more your game needs to stand out.
So, if using influencers and affiliates is so challenging, why is it so popular? Why do developers jump through hoops to try to get their games in their hands? Because when done correctly, affiliates and influencers can lead to more sales, more brand awareness, a larger budget for another project and valuable connections. In a recent Nielsen study, 66% of respondents stated that they trust consumer opinions posted online. When an affiliate blogs about your game and lists a link to it on their sidebar, readers consider it reliable information. When a YouTuber streams your game and has a fun time playing it, it makes viewer believe that the game is worthy of purchasing. They trust that the interest and level of excitement was genuine.
Think of it as a means of indirect, dark social traffic. Rather than putting just your own studio’s name out there, blogging on your own website, and promoting your own game, suddenly with an affiliate or influencer there is someone else, other than you, vouching for your game. More so, proper game promotion follows one simple rule: go where the players are. If the vast majority of players are watching Let’s Play videos on YouTube and reading up on blogs that are affiliated with gaming retailers and development studios, then it’s smart to follow suit. After all, promoting a game on a platform or outlet that isn’t filled with potential customers won’t amount to many sales. Whatever the challenges of partnering up with affiliates and influencers, the advantages far outweigh them. And once solutions to those challenges are found, who knows how much these outlets may continue to grow?
However, we’ve only been covering one side. Detailing what it’s like for developers to reach out is one thing, but what about the affiliates and influencers themselves? What is the process really like for them?
Starting with the perks: Youtube influencers can build a following, play games for a three-figure annual income, and become internet sensations of their own. They’re able to create content with creative freedom and get paid to do it. There’s an emergence of networks that allow partners to post more targeted ads on their channels for higher CPM’s, so the methods in which they can monetize their traffic are certainly there. For influencers like HAWPOfficial, the YouTuber behind “Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin’?” the sky’s the limit, since they can become exposed to the industry in other ways. This YouTube channel alone granted Ashly Burch, the creator of the content, the chance to do voice acting for games including Borderlands 2, Life is Strange, Fallout 4, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Horizon: Zero Dawn.
In the case of affiliates, they might not be voice acting anytime soon, but they certainly can blog about games while promoting video games and making money off commission. For instance, That VideoGame Blog is part of the Amazon Associates program, an affiliate advertising program that allows sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to the Amazon website. The blog pushes the envelope even farther, allowing developers and retailers to advertise their content. Due to its popularity and layout, it is common to find such ads on the website—again, all of which allow the site to earn. If they choose to partner up with neither a retailer nor developer, affiliates can still join affiliate programs such as VGPMB. The company offers over 60% commission, free marketing content—such as banners—as well as affiliate tracking so they can monitor their traffic and sales.
However, it’s not all great for influencers and affiliates either. Just like developers have challenges when trying to sift through data, influencers and affiliates have some hurdles of their own. For one thing, they are only considered valuable when they have large followings. The only exception to this rule is when there is a small or mid-sized niche channel with a loyal following. Assuming your game fits into a niche, it might be more fruitful than working with the popular influencer that plays all types of games. Also, there are rules to follow. In a study conducted by industry favorite Kotaku, streamers stated that when creating a sponsored video, they need to find something in the game to gently poke fun at and something to incorporate into trailer’s gameplay footage. And under no circumstances should there be cursing or foul language. It is also a custom to entice players to purchase these games by offering to play with them.
For affiliates, the cons come in two primary forms: lack of exposure and finances. Unlike influencers, affiliates tend to hide behind words, hence never formally becoming an online sensation. There is no recognition other than perhaps more blog traffic. Although traffic is always nice to have, there are no guarantees that affiliates will make any money. Not only do they need to hand select each item based on their audience, they also need to hope that these people will be intrigued enough to click through and purchase the item. If a customer doesn’t end up liking the item, there is no commission. Assuming that a blog has quality affiliate program partnership, there is still the matter of SEO. Unless their content is searchable, filled with keywords, outgoing and incoming links, H1 titles, and quality images, there won’t be many sales, if at all.
Making room for affiliate and influencer marketing in your game promotion plan is not only a wise idea, it’s become more and more expected. Blogging and streaming are two of the most engaging methods in which people share a love of games together, and as such, they’ve become invaluable for marketing purposes. With 90% of players watching Let’s Play videos online and 66% saying they trust consumer opinions posted online, this is a goldmine of a market to tap into. Despite the fact that there are challenges, such as getting ahold of them or connecting with the right audience, the advantages of partnering with affiliates and influencers far outweigh the issues. By adding them to your game promotion plan, you can automatically expand your outreach, get other people to vouch for your game, and build trust between you as a developer and the players.
Furthermore, influencers and affiliates have quite a few perks. They can get free games, make a living, and build connections with other players just by doing something that they love. While bloggers can increase traffic and commission potential, streamers can become what’s now known as internet celebrities, or viral stars. Even though they have a few drawbacks, all of which pertain to having to build an audience to amount to success, overall, they welcome being approached with games to stream. If you’ve been considering contacting influencers and affiliates to potentially help promote your game, it is highly advised that you do so. With so many resources available, from VGPMB and Game Influencer to Xsolla and Ader, the excuses for not doing this are running thin. As time goes on, the demand for this type of marketing will only get more and more popular. As a developer, it is your duty to follow the players wherever they are, whether it be on YouTube, or other niche gaming blogs. Doing so can amount to a greater outreach, sales potential and brand awareness.